As this week marks the Association of Colleges #LoveOurColleges campaign, I’ve been reflecting on the choices I made when I left school - half my lifetime ago - and the role colleges play in supporting young people into employment or further study.
When I finished my GCSEs all those years ago, it was a given that I’d move straight on to A Levels at school. The college where I lived was just round the corner, but going to college at the time had negative connotations, so I simply never considered it an option.
The minute I walked into the FE sector as an employee rather than a student, my perceptions totally changed. Over the years, colleges have worked hard to invest in their environments and provide opportunities and life experiences to set individuals up for their future career. I see some of the facilities and learning environments available to students at Newcastle College and others across the country and wonder what I’d now do if I had my time again?
The employment market has changed - employers want people who can hit the ground running, someone that has used the equipment before and had an insight into what the industry offers. Colleges provide the platform to do just that. Where else could you learn in an aircraft hangar, music studio or a-la-carte restaurant? Facilities like these provide the springboard for people to focus on their passion and excel in their chosen career.
There's still a job to do in educating young people and parents about the wealth of benefits that college study brings. The misconception can be that ‘you can’t go to university’ if you go to college but at Newcastle College we’re trying to change all that, by showcasing some of the amazing facilities and technical courses available to those leaving school.
Students who complete their college studies can choose to secure employment or an apprenticeship. But they could also progress to university or stay within a college environment at Newcastle College University Centre to complete a degree. Here, they can continue with their technical education, learn in more practical ways and benefit from employer links to give them real industry insight.
Education has changed and there must be sufficient funding to allow colleges to grow and invest. Technology and industries change at such a fast pace; colleges must be able to continue to match those working environments found in industry and give individuals every opportunity to succeed.
Having worked in the sector for a number of years, I’ve witnessed the benefits of college study. I’ve been into “classrooms” which are professional kitchens, rail tracks, hospital wards and beauty salons. I’ve seen young people excel, go on to forge amazing careers, all because of the way their college taught them to develop skills and realise their potential.
There has to be a close correlation between learning environments and industry. Colleges need support not only to develop facilities but to also widen participation through student support initiatives which remove barriers to education.
Colleges Week and the #LoveOurColleges campaign is a great showcase of the fantastic work colleges do. It’s an opportunity for those in the further education sector to get together and champion colleges to raise awareness of the opportunities that exist for people from all walks of life.
Without fair funding and recognition, there’s a danger of colleges falling behind, so the #LoveOurColleges campaign is a great initiative to be able to give colleges a common voice.
It asks that the government stop cutting funds to further education and aims to fight for fair funding for students, so colleges like us can continue to provide the best education opportunities and benefit everyone in our communities.
You can find out more information at collegesweek.co.uk and support the campaign by signing this petition, calling on the government to increase college funding.